Chickens come home to roost

NEW ULM – “We will have chickens,” said City Council President Charles Schmitz following a 3-2 vote to amend city code to allow chickens within city limits.

Councilors Lisa Fischer, Ruth Ann Webster and Les Schultz cast “yes” votes favoring the ordinance. Councilors Ken RockVam and Charles Schmitz voted “no.”

Following the vote, City Manager Brian Gramentz advised people not to buy their chickens yet, because the change to the ordinance will not go into effect for a few months. Two readings of the ordinance are needed first.

The request to allow chickens in New Ulm came in June. The Council felt the issue needed to be examined further. A chicken sub-committee was established consisting of Schultz, RockVam, Police Chief Myron Wieland, Tony Guggisberg of the Happy Hen committee, and veterinarian Sharon Hurley.

The ordinance would be for a trial test period of two years.

Gramentz said most of the regulations were adopted from other communities with chicken ordinances and were not “plucked from out of thin air.”

Gramentz said that the maximum coop size of 16 feet was established based on regulation that humane treatment of chickens required the birds each be given 4 square feet of space. All adjacent property owners to permit applicants must sign off on the application form. In most situations this will require five signatures. The cost of a two-year permit is $40. No limit is established on how many permits may be issued, but currently 10 permits are expected.

During the discussion, RockVam said he would vote against the motion because the comments he had received were overwhelmingly negative.

“When you have well over 150 people that say they don’t want chickens, I am not going to vote for chickens,” he said.

Schultz said most of the responses he received were in favor of allowing chickens. He said that he had contacted communities that allowed chickens and learned permit applications were rare. In St. Louis Park, which has a population of 45,000, had only received eight permits.

“We’re not expecting more than 10,” said Schultz. “We’re not talking about the city being overrun with chickens as some people are paranoid and fearful about.”

Schultz voted for allowing urban chickens because he could not see a reason against it, he said. Concerns are addressed by the regulations in the ordinance. Those who do not want chickens in their neighborhood can refuse to sign-off on a neighbor’s application.

“I think we have enough protections in this proposal, and if in two years we have concerns, we bring it back, and get rid of it. I would be the first to support that if there are concerns,” Schultz said.

Schmitz said the residents he spoke with were evenly divided on the issue, but he personally was against the ordinance change. Chickens need to stay on the farm, Schmitz said. “I moved to town to get away from them.”

Webster voiced her approval for allowing chickens in city limits, saying “I think any kid would benefit from understanding what animals are like to take care of when they don’t ‘meow’ or ‘bark.'”

Webster questioned zoning – specifically if chickens could be allowed in a single family dwelling if it were in a business or industrial zone. The consensus of the Council was that a single family dwelling in an industrial or business district would likely be allowed to apply for a chicken permit.

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In other business, the council

– Approved closing the alley adjacent to the B&L Bar and granting an extension to the liquor license into the closed area on Friday, Aug. 22, from 4-10 p.m for a concert.

– Approved contracting with Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates to prepare a repair plan for the Bridge connecting 20th South Street to Nicollet County State Aid Highway 37.

– Authorized the repair of a sink hole on city property leased by Putting Green. The sink hole is 10 feet across and 15 feet deep. The hole has created a dangerous hazard in need of immediate repair. The cost of repairs is approximately $3,000.

– Approved the annexation of 48.3 acres of property in Milford Township for the reconstruction of an existing runway for the New Ulm airport.

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